Thursday, December 9, 2010

Adventures in tracking

When the whispers are heard upon the once so deaf ears....

Adventures in Tracking...

We had five free range Roosters last week. All but one were taken in the night. The first to meet the dim fate was one of the youngest. At night he perched low on a bench, making him an easy target. I found his remains in the barn, only the breast missing. It was almost as if he was just killed for sport. I wondered if Milo the barn cat had anything to do with it. Two days later the next was taken. I say this shamefully but neither of the first were terribly missed like the following two.

There was a break in the killing spree, almost a week. Then it picked up again. Our pet Roo Jeeves being the next. We were all sadden by the loss of our beloved Jeeves. We tried to catch the remaining two but could only catch one. The elusive Belvedere met his fate the following night.

The loss of my boys weighed in my subconscious mind. I dreamed I found Jeeves in the woods, injured but alive. The dreamed lingered in my mind. I decided to investigate... "just maybe", I had hoped.

Last night after I set my live trap, I had traced the path down the hillside but then the trail turned to the North side of the property. The cold evening air lingered on my face but as I found more evidence my adrenalin kept me warm. I followed the trail to a clearing in the fence. I was startled by the downed fence and cleared brush. I wondered, "am I dealing with an animal!?!?!"  The night sky was quickly falling on me and with my new startling evidence I decided that I had carried it  far enough. Quietly the moon illuminated my chilling walk back towards the house.

Today I bundled up my littlest one. "Were going to solve a mystery, Aubs" I announced. Aubs was excited to be apart of anything mysterious. I assumed he over heard my plans to go for a stroll as he grabbed his snow suit and began to rummage around for his missing fish net.... but then he announced, "Lets go squirrel hunting".
Kids often have a set of plans of their own.  I obliged his squirrel hunting tale and off we went... Aye BUT not before I distracted his attention from the search of the fishing net, or course.

 We made our way towards the barn. The slew of feathers scattered around the barnyard and field made it look as if there had been a massacre of greater numbers than 4. I found no feathers of the little ones but Belvedere and Jeeves were easily found. I suspect they put up the greatest fight.

My trap was empty... perhaps my predator wasn't a scavenger? Maybe he didn't like my selection of scrap bait (pizza and eggs)? We picked up the trail at the (missing) fence again. Upon daylight examination, deer had probably just knocked down the old loosely strung wire. There was a heavily trampled path through the open fence. Yes the wild critters use this path often.

I was about 3 feet on the opposite side of the north property line when I notice the blood splatter painted across the leaves. There were a few stray feathers (Belvedere's) but much blood. I followed the worn narrow path down into a barn on the abandoned piece of property. Inside the lean-to on the north side of the barn I found a narrow burrow/ tunnel? I had finally came to an end.... all roads lead to home??? Is this the culprits home?

Coincidence? Maybe.

I decided to pick up the other trail. Following the trail that Jeeves had left on the east side of property line. The colorful leaves laid heavy along the ground. Aubs walked carefully beside me. I was very surprised by how quiet he was. Was he actually listening to the wilderness too?

A creamy colored object caught me eye. I did a double take but realized that it wasn't a bone. I silently took note that it was just the skin of a rotten Delicata Squash.

"Momma, its a bone", Aubs delightfully squealed out his discovery. I squatted down next to him, picking up the dried squash skin "Its the same color as bone, but look" I opened the paper-like fold to reveal a large pocket of seeds. "Its an old skin from our Delicata squash". He shook his head, conveying that he understood and then picked up a few of the seeds and placed them in his pocket.

We continued to walk towards the south east corner of the property. There were a few feathers scattered along the the way. The marking indicated that it was Jeeves. I bent down to pick up a clump of feathers. The breeze shook the trees and a faint whiff of decaying flesh tickled my senses... I knew that I was close to discovering more of Jeeves. I traced my steps backwards to make sure nothing was a miss. I took a long deep breath and the scent was gone. I returned to the original spot, kneeling down, taking note of yet another burrow... but this one was old. The leaves had piled over top of it. In the center was a pile of scat. I moved the scat over, taking note of the still frosty leaves covering the entrance of the burrow. I thought perhaps that this must be of a familiar place to the culprit but definitely not his/her home. This place had been left abandon  long ago.

Once again the breeze blew by. I stood quietly listening. Then my focus was broken, Aubs! Where is he? I  quickly turned to my right where he stood eerily quiet. His vision gazed off into the thick forest ahead. He is still searching... listening.  The same child  that would cry to have to step foot outside was listening to the wind.... maybe he is going to be an outdoorsy kid after all???

I stood beside him, quietly taking in the moment. Waiting patiently for him to get his fill of the great outdoors.
His movement broke the serenity of the moment. We walked a few more feet and then the faint smell of carcass tickled the senses yet again. Then I noticed it... A bone. I squatted down examining the area. The bone had been cleaned. What ever took Jeeves wasted very little of him. I scanned the area further for more , but I found nothing. Maybe there was more there that laid hidden... or perhaps my sense of smell has indeed been heightened since kicking my nasty little habit of cigarettes.

None the less, I felt satisfied with my findings and Aubs informed me that he was finished "squirrel hunting". We headed back up to the house. When I reached the far corner of the goat pasture, I turned around glancing back at the woods line. The frothy clouds scattered over the forest as two vultures soared high above the tree tops.

At that moment... I came full circle. Jeeves, Belvedere, the predator, the tracks, the leaves, the burrow, the vultures, connecting with my son, learning, listening, following... It all connected. At that moment... we all become one, apart of something bigger better and amazing.

I don't know what in the hell I tracked today.... but yeah, I found something... something larger than myself.


  1. Leigh... wonderful expedition. I'd be suspicious it was a weasel myself... my sister had a lot of trouble with them taking her ducks. But the adventure seems to have been a wonderful one with your son and nature.

  2. Thank's Leigh. I was drawn into this place like when reading a good novel. Only it is not a novel, but real...

    Oh and it Is amazing how much more you can smell and taste without the cigarettes.

  3. leigh, there are a lot of critters in the food chain that like chicken. When you catch it,remember that there may be more then one. Bait your trap with a piece of uncooked chicken or some cat food. Luck-------------Jim

  4. Hi Leigh,
    One of the best posts by you or anyone else for that matter that I've read for a long time. So many emotions as I followed your's and Aub's steps and the connection to the 'wild' that you conveyed - breath taking.
    Best regards,

  5. Great story...Sorry to hear about your Chucks Leigh...I would be devastated and 'quite' annoyed...Jon 'Fox Killer' Mac.

  6. I like how Aubs took some seeds and pocketed them. Kids have their own way of interacting with the outdoors, and his seems so curious and genuine.

  7. Judy,
    Weasels are always a possibility. Nasty little things. I have similar memories of weasel attacking my friends ducks; mass injuries, and many were killed obviously for sport.

    The time I spent with Aubs yesterday was really special. It was one of his first times of really showing interest and interaction.

    I am so happy you enjoyed the post. Yesterday was down right thrilling. Mostly encouraged by the knowledge and support of the woodlife team.

    You are entirely right about the sense of smell... for a second it took me off guard because it was so faint...I wasnt sure if I was accurate. Then I realized! I thought wow, I wonder what else I missed before!?

    Glad to see the connection was indeed conveyed. When walking back to the house I had this weird sense of newfound "awareness". I'm glad I was able to share the experience.

  8. Jim,
    I realize there are a variety of possibilities and an excellent chance that we are working with a community of chicken eaters. After my evening... I think I am going to pursue this creature purely for enrichment purposes as there will always be another hungry animal waiting for a meal. I think I am going to follow your suggestion with a meal that we know this fella like... chicken tonight! :) Thanks for the comment.

    Thanks a ton buddy, Its always a real honor to have someone as talented as yourself applaud! It was one of the best experiences I have had! Something that was fairly simple was welcomed with great enlightenment! Wish so many of you could have been here to walk along the path with me.

    Jon (Fox Killer) Mac,
    I do love the way your new name rolls off the tongue!

    Thanks for the condolences. I knew that you would understand! :)

    Aubs made the day! He takes things in so much more differently than my daughter. Yesterday was like I finally got in sync with him. It was really cool.

    LOL I have to say that name does roll off the tongue rather nice!

  9. Interesting puzzle you have there. Over the years I’ve lost more chickens to a variety of predators than I can count. Coyotes, fox, bobcats, raccoons, hawks, owls, etc. If your chicken thief is climbing the trees and dragging the chicken off, that leaves out the hawks and owls. At one time I had quite a skunk problem. They weren’t climbing the trees, but they were waiting for the chickens to fly down the first thing in the morning. One of the most destructive predators I ever had to deal with was a feral house cat. 8 hens and a rooster if I remember correctly before I caught it. In your case I would put my money on a ’coon or cat; bobcat or feral. Good hunting.

  10. Oh my goodness, Leigh, this is an amazing post. Well stated, you drew me in from the very beginning, and I didn't want it to end.


    Happy Belated Birthday : )

  11. Andrea,
    Glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for the birthday wishes! :)